As a Trans Woman, Sex Offender Laws Make Re-Entry a Test I’m Meant to Fail

    [Read Part 1 of this story here.]

    For the first 30 minutes of the drive to my release address on September 13, I was numb. What broke me was that the more I looked out the window, all the colors were so bright. I had to cry. In prison, everything is muted and drab. For the past 13 years, minus a two-month sabbatical, the only trees I saw were far in the distance. There was grass, but you weren’t allowed to touch it. If you walked across the grass rather than on the walkway, they’d make you stand for hours under the sun.

    My lawyer, who is one of my closest friends, dropped me off at my release address. It’s a boarding house that got permission from the local government for people on the sex offender registry (SOR) to live there together. I’m very grateful to have found housing that allowed me to be released from prison. But I’m paying $800 per month to live in a house that’s half-gutted, without full walls. The plumbing is still being installed.

    I started to get my bearings. I was behind schedule, because I’d needed to take out cash for my first and last months’ rent, plus security deposit, but I didn’t have my credit or debit cards yet. Once I did, ATM fees were eating into precious savings. I tried to take stock of what I didn’t have, and what I needed most urgently. Clothes. Toilet paper. The phone number of my parole officer (PO).

    I had 24 hours to check in with my parole officer, but I was not told their name or how to find them.

    I had 24 hours to check in with my PO, but I was not told their name or how to find them. My release paperwork only told me what county I was in, and it turned out it wasn’t even the right one. I started googling local law enforcement offices, and got a bunch of unlisted numbers.

    In the meantime, I knew I had 72 hours to find the county sherriff’s department and register as a sex offender, so I got a ride there with one of the other boarding house tenants. The officers fingerprinted me and said I’d have to re-register by my birthday in December. When I asked if I had to re-register with the last county where I’d been on SOR, they didn’t know. Initially, they tried to tell me I’d have to register under my previous legal name, even though my name has legally been Christina Lynch since 2018.

    We got a ride back to the boarding house. I made an appointment with the county health department to figure out how I could continue hormone replacement therapy (HRT). They referred me to an organization for trans women of color, where I could access it for less than I’d pay otherwise, but it’ll still run me about $75 each month. In custody, I’d had to litigate for access to HRT, as well as facial hair removal, but they were free.

    Though I hadn’t been given my PO’s contact info, at least she’d been given mine. I got a call from her introducing herself, and thankfully she seemed decent—communicating terms of my supervision that were surprisingly manageable, and even offering to help me look for jobs.

    The next morning, I got a ride to Walmart where I had a meeting—in the parking lot, to lock down the Honda I’d had my eye on from Facebook Marketplace. That was one of the highest priorities and biggest expenses I’d been saving for. Things were going according to plan. I drove to the insurance storefront to get a printed copy of the policy, and then went to city hall to get the license plate and registration.

    I’d always fought for the things that made me feel at home in my body. Now I was free to pursue them in full, and to feel more at home in my home, too.

    My room was somewhat grim, and at first I was still in the institutional mindset where I didn’t think I could make modifications. It was freeing to realize that I could decorate it in bright colors and make it more beautiful.

    I gave it the dollar-store makeover, and as it started to come together I started to buy clothes and some makeup, too. I did my hair. I continued forward in my transition. In prison, I’d always fought for the things that made me feel at home in my body. Now I was free to pursue them in full, and to feel more at home in my home, too. Even if it’s not the home I intend to be in for long.

    One of the things people often struggle with post-release is the void that was once filled by forced routine. Days were structured, but not by us. And even in prison, I’d managed to fill my time by always looking to the next guidepost in preparation for my re-entry.

    I’m a task-oriented person, setting goals and checking things off lists, then the next thing, then the next. I was able to ease into those first few days because I had the support of friends, and I know I’m about to feel adrift. But I also know I have plans—plans to live in a home that suits me and to build a career that sustains me. Plans to build a life outside of prison, in spite of a system trying to send me back.



    Photograph via Washington State Department of Corrections

    • C is a writer and advocate interested in prison/criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction and government/cultural criticism. She has studied history/theology with the Third Order of Carmelites and completed degrees in Systematic Theology. She is currently studying law.

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